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English peasantry of the 14th to 18th centuries who carried on the independent cultivation of lands that were their traditional hereditary possessions.
The term “yeoman” is a fairly ambiguous one. Originally thecore of the yeomanry consisted of the peasant freeholders onmedieval manors. However, with the breakdown of the manorialsystem, the majority of former serfs, whose de facto positioncame to resemble closely that of the freeholders, swelled theranks of the yeomen. With the continuing development of com-modity-monetary relations, however, the unity of the yeomanryas a group began to erode, tending toward a polarization into awell-to-do upper stratum and a mass of rural poor. Nonetheless, the yeomanry continued to represent the basic mass of Englishpeasantry until the middle of the 17th century. During the En-glish bourgeois revolution of the 17th century, they and theplebeian elements in the cities played a decisive role in the liqui-dation of the feudal absolutist regime, although they themselveswere deprived of the fruits of victory. The further developmentof capitalist relations in the century after the revolution led tothe almost total disappearance of the group from the historicalarena.
M. A. BARG